Middle East

Western Wall: Jewish women clash over prayer rights

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Thousands of young ultra-Orthodox Jews have clashed with a liberal Jewish women's group at one of Judaism's holiest sites, the Western Wall, in Jerusalem.

Dozens of members of the Women of the Wall group, who are seeking equal prayer rights, had to be escorted away by police.

Protesters, many of them women, responded to calls from ultra-Orthodox rabbis to disrupt the group's 30th anniversary service, media reports say.

A number of people were reportedly injured in the incident.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City - a relic of the Biblical Temple compound - currently has separate sections where men and women are allowed to pray.

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The Jerusalem Post says 150 members of the group were met by more than 10,000 ultra-Orthodox women early on Friday morning, with insults exchanged between the two sides.

Some of the protesting girls told Haaretz newspaper they had been bussed in by their religious schools in an attempt to block the group from accessing the Western Wall.

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"During the prayers, friction arose between the worshippers, including the Women of the Wall, including curses and various comments," police said in a statement.

In a tweet, the Women of the Wall said two of its members had to get medical treatment after the incident. The group was later escorted to another area of the wall that allows non-traditional mixed-gender prayers to take place.

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The Haaretz newspaper reported that hundreds of young ultra-Othodox men also attempted to break through police barricades to access the women's group, but police managed to push them back. Police said they had arrested one man for attempting to assault a police officer.

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The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, has appealed for calm, urging both sides "to guard the Western Wall as a unified place, and not a place of division".

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For 30 years, the Women of the Wall group have been fighting rules that bar women from wearing prayer shawls, praying and reading from the Torah (Bible) collectively and aloud at the site.

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According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, women should not perform these religious rituals. Under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, the Israeli authorities in 2017 froze plans to upgrade the separate mixed-gender prayer area on the southern side of the wall.

Correction 12 March 2019: This article originally stated that the Israeli authorities had scrapped plans to create a mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall. It has been amended to make clear that these plans, which were frozen, related to the upgrade of an existing mixed-gender prayer area.

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